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Should Durant Become a Free Agent Again in 2017?

Should Kevin Durant postpone his free agency to the summer of 2017? It makes sense for several reasons.

Tommy Beer

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The 2016 NBA free agent class is a relatively weak crop, featuring few true superstars – especially when compared to the incredible class of 2017. However, there is an incredibly appealing grand prize. The cream of the free agent crop is Kevin Durant. It is rare that such an incredible talent will be up for grabs in the middle of his prime (Durant doesn’t turn 28 until September). There was some trepidation coming into this season after KD missed 55 games in 2014-15 as a result of multiple foot surgeries; however, Durant has quieted those concerns this year. He’s started 54 games this season and the foot hasn’t been an issue. Just as importantly, he’s reestablished himself as a dominant offensive force. Durant is on pace to become the first player in over 20 years to average at least 28 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Per BasketballReference.com, only nine players in the NBA history are part of this exclusive club (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Bob McAdoo, Oscar Robertson and David Robinson).

There are simply very, very few players in the history of the game who can boast his combination of size and skill. As he showcased during his MVP season in 2013-14, when he averaged an astounding 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, he is a transcendent star when fully healthy.

To his credit, Durant has been able to successfully keep his pending free agent status from becoming a distraction to both himself and his teammates. In the recent past, we’ve seen how madness can be consuming for superstars on the precipice of free agency. However, expect the attention toward Durant to ramp up to unprecedented levels once the Thunder’s season reaches its conclusion. When the 2015-16 campaign comes to a close, and we begin focusing on the offseason, Durant will become the NBA’s hottest commodity and most talked about player.

So, will Durant re-sign with Oklahoma City, or relocate elsewhere, and potentially shift the NBA’s balance of power in the process?

It would be foolish to pretend to have any exclusive insight into KD’s decisions making process. It’s very likely Durant himself hasn’t decided what he’ll do come July, so how could anyone else pretend to know? However, it could be argued that predicting the length of Durant’s next contract does not require going out on a limb. All things considered, it may be safe to assume that Durant will actually decline to sign a long-term deal this summer. Instead, because it makes the most fiscal sense for him to do so, expect KD to follow in the footsteps of LeBron James and sign a two-year contract this summer, which will enable Durant to opt-out in 2017, once again becoming an unrestricted free agent. We’ll break down why this is a safe assumption below.

If we are looking at realistic non-OKC contenders in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, the Washington Wizards were the early favorites. Durant was born and raised in Washington D.C., and has previously flirted with the idea of returning home. The Wizards have been planning and pining for the opportunity to sell Durant on teaming up with John Wall and Bradley Beal and making the Wiz an Eastern Conference powerhouse. The pitch could be powerful, as a homecoming would have the added bonus of allowing him to escape the stacked Western Conference.

The other team rumored to have peaked Durant’s interest is the Golden State Warriors. The defending champs are in the middle of possibly the greatest regular season in NBA history. The mere idea of Durant joining Steph Curry and company in the Bay Area is enough to send shivers down the spines of the rest of the league. Whether Durant would be content taking a backseat to Curry (who will likely be a back-to-back MVP at that point) remains to be seen. Again, so much can happen between now and then, it’s futile to try and predict how Durant might feel four months from now. Instead of trying to read the tea leaves, let’s instead just look strictly at the numbers.

When Durant hits unrestricted free agency this summer, he will have completed nine NBA seasons. Because he will have between seven and nine years of NBA experience under his belt, he can sign a max contract starting at 30 percent of a team’s total cap. (For those looking for exact figures it is important to note that, per cap expert Larry Coon, “a different cap calculation is used to determine the maximum salaries, which is based on 42.14 percent of projected BRI rather than 44.74 percent. … For this reason the maximum salaries are not actually 25 percent, 30 percent or 35 percent of the cap, and instead are a slightly lower amount.”)

So, with the cap jumping up to a purported $92 million this summer, here is what a max offer (with max allowable 4.5 percent raises) for Durant from either Washington or Golden State would look like:

2016-17: $25.9 million
2017-18: $27.1 million
2018-19: $28.3 million
2019-20: $29.6 million

Sum total of $110.9 million over four NBA seasons

And yes, the Warriors would be able to carve out the necessary cap space to sign Durant without gutting their roster. Trading either the Andre Iguodala or Andrew Bogut (both would have expiring contracts) would create the necessary cap space.

However, if Durant signed a long-term deal with any team other than the Thunder this summer, he’d be leaving money on the table. The starting salary would be the same, but because OKC owns his “Bird Rights,” they would be able to offer 7.5 percent annual raises and a fifth year of guaranteed money. Here is the max offer OKC would be able to present this summer:

2016-17: $25.9 million
2017-18: $27.8 million
2018-19: $29.9 million
2019-20: $32.1 million
2020-21: $34.5 million

Sum total of $150.2 million over five NBA seasons

Now, despite this enormous amount of money, Durant could set himself up for an even more monumental payday by going the “LeBron James route.” This is because the NBA’s salary cap is reportedly set to spike all the way up to $108 million in 2017-18. (League sources have suggested that the actual number may even end up settling somewhere closer to $110 million). In addition, if Durant plays one more season, he will have logged 10 seasons in the NBA. This is important because it bumps him up into the highest possible tier, which means he (still squarely in his prime at just 28 years of age) would then be able to command an initial starting salary at 35% of his team’s salary cap. It’s a perfect storm which would allow him to sign a mind-blowing max contract.

If Durant signed a two-year deal with OKC, with an opt-out in 2017, Durant would make $25.9 million next season and would then opt out. Here is the incredible five-year max deal he’d be able to sign with Oklahoma City in July of 2017:

2017-18: $35.8 million
2018-19: $38.5 million
2019-20: $41.4 million
 2020-21: $44.5 million
2021-22: $47.9 million

Sum total of $208.1 million over five NBA seasons

By signing a two-year deal in 2016, and essentially postponing his full max contract, Durant would be able to pocket an extra $58 million. The gap is even wider when compared to signing a max four-year deal with a non-Thunder team this summer. In that scenario, he’d potentially be sacrificing nearly $100 million in guaranteed money.

On the flip side, Durant has dealt with a foot issue, so maybe he would be hesitant to sign only a two-year deal and would prefer to lock in long-term deal as soon as possible? Only time will tell.

It should also be noted that Durant signed a huge contract with Nike in 2014 that supposedly will pay him close to $300 million over the life of that deal. Does having already signed that deal make it more likely he’d be willing to settle for less on-court earnings? Or does it increase the likelihood that he’ll sign for only two years this summer, knowing he has that security blanket courtesy of the Nike deal?

However, it is not just financial advice from his agents that will likely push Durant toward signing a truncated contract with OKC this summer. Another immensely important benefit of becoming a free agent again in 2017 is that it would allow him to sync up his free agency with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, whose current contracts expire after the 2016-17 season. Arguably the worst-case scenario for Durant would be agreeing to a five-deal this summer with the Thunder, only to see his superstar teammates leave the following year. If KD and Russ entered free agency together in 2017, they could jointly decide whether they wanted to spend the remainder of their prime as a tandem. If Westbrook and/or Ibaka decided to leave Oklahoma City, at least Durant would have that information to help inform his decision before committing the prime of his career to OKC. It would also give him the option of leaving with them, teaming up elsewhere.

When LeBron James signed with Cleveland, it was well known that one of the reasons he didn’t sign the enormous max contract they were offering was because he not only wanted to wait for the cap to spike before locking in his five-year deal; King James also wanted to be able to hold the feet of Cleveland’s front office to the fire, ensuring they didn’t skimp and were willing to spend excessively in order to surround LeBron with the best talent available. Pending superstar free agents have far more leverage than those that are contractually bound to a team for the foreseeable future.

Looking at the big picture, there are several important factors, both financial and otherwise, that could motivate Durant to forgo a long-term contract and sign a two-year deal with OKC instead.

Come July, we’ll find out what Durant decides makes the most sense.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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